How I found Frodo's Ring
A hidden forest of Tolkien trails awaits in Southern NH
Comrades. As much as I want to say that I’ve spent the earliest weeks of 2022 poking around culverts, frozen moss colonies, and urban staircases, I’ve been taking it easier than usual since Christmas. Why? Peroneal tendonitis. I pissed off one of the tendons in my ankle and lower leg in late December by going for an 8 mile hike across Boston for the first time in months, and I did it in old shoes that had lost their old cushioning. The cure is rest, icing, foam rolling, strengthening exercises, and massive self pity.
I’ll be easing my way back onto the trails over the next couple of weeks, but there’s an eerie sense of déjà vu to being temporarily sidelined in January, unable to venture too far from home. A lot of us experienced some version of this last January when Covid transmission was making scores of folks sick and overloading hospitals. And now it’s happening all over again. I’ve lost count of the number of people I know who’ve tested positive for Covid or who’ve gone into self-isolation after being exposed to the virus. Even if you’ve managed to dodge the plague, the open road and the wintery mountain yonder might not have the same allure as they did just a month ago.
So where can you go for a hike when you can’t really leave home? It’s one thing to say, “I’m not traveling farther than an hour or two from where I live.” But what if you need to stay even closer? A limitation like this might seem like a death blow to your outdoor adventuring plans, but au contraire, being sidelined at home is actually an opportunity to sow the seeds for future hikes. Now is the time for some hyper-local hike scouting.
Wherever you are right now—your home, a friend’s place, a rental, etc.—I guarantee that within a few miles of your current location, there’s *something* that could be fashioned into a hike. Maybe it’s a soupy patch of marsh that doubles as a reservoir during local flooding, or a crumbling alleyway that stretches for blocks behind the residential homes and businesses you pass each day. Online mapping tools like Google Maps and AllTrails can spotlight local hiking features that might have been hiding in plain sight: public green spaces, bodies of water, or civic landmarks that you’ve never heard of. Screwing around on Google Maps at the height of the first Covid winter led me to Nira Rock, a house-sized boulder on Parker Hill, near New England Baptist Hospital. It’s just sitting there, hidden within the trees and rows of apartment buildings. A puddingstone giant in on otherwise sleepy neighborhood.
But roughly one year ago, I stumbled across something even more enchanted in the quiet woodlands of Amherst, New Hampshire, near the Massachusetts state line…